The 2021 Honda CRF450R is all-new for 2021. The entirely new chassis, bodywork, exhaust, and hydraulic clutch highlight the changes to the CRF450R. Add to that a motor that has numerous updates, and it’s easy to see why the Honda CRF450R is so much improved. We have already had a First Look at the 2021 Honda CRF450R, so refer to that story for all the technical information. Let’s go riding at Glen Helen Raceway!
The first thing that we noticed is just how slim the 2021 Honda CRF450R is, all the way from the side panels to the radiator shrouds. Other bikes and older Hondas have bulges at the side panels for the mufflers. The ’21 feels nice and smooth when you’re getting back on the motorcycle, and keeps that thin feel as you slide forward on the seat. Honda kept the same rider triangle as before, as it is liked by almost all riders.
Turning is vastly improved. The new bike turns as good or better than any 450 we have ridden. It drops nicely into a rut or berm, and stays there without wanting to climb out or stand up if pushed too hard.
The ’21 lost weight this year. While Honda claims a three-pound weight reduction, it feels like a lot more on the track. The weight loss is much of the reason the new CRF450R feels so maneuverable, both on the ground and in the air.
The new CRF450R never gave us a nervous feel or headshake. That said, it’s still not the most stable bike out there. With its razor-sharp turning, light weight, and narrow feel, that’s not a surprise at all. However, at no point at all did we feel that we needed to back off because it made us feel uncomfortable.
The Showa suspension was good for Glen Helen Raceway for our first-day test. Before we rode the CRF450R, Honda increased the compression damping for us a little due to the hills and terrain on the iconic track; it was the right call. After a bit of time, we adjusted the sag to the recommended 105mm, but we stuck with Honda’s damping adjustment for the track conditions. That helped the bike feel more planted. Proper setup is always crucial on a motocross track.
The 2021 Honda CRF450R motor is powerful, and that might be an understatement. While Honda did work to keep the power smooth with no hard hits, the SOHC thumper they built is very fast. The motor is free-revving and, once into the mid-range, it revs quick and scoots you down the straight or uphill in a rapid manner. At the same time, the CRF450R it doesn’t feel like it’s ripping your arms out their sockets, as more abrupt 450s can do. It simply connects to the ground, and gets up and goes.
There are three map choices and three traction control levels. The three maps are vastly different. The soft map just felt sluggish—it wasn’t for us. The standard map is what we will most likely use the most. After some heavy watering of the Glen Helen circuit, what really worked well for our faster test rider was the aggressive map with the traction control in the middle mode. The 2021 Honda CRF450R just pulled nice and hard, while also keeping traction and just going forward. The downside of the traction control, however, is that our pro-class test rider couldn’t slide the rear end through corners as much, and he tends to steer a lot with the rear end.
We would like a little more bottom end power. A few times, when coming out of turns or technical areas, and we let the revs drop, the powerplant felt like it didn’t run as clean as it should with the mapping. If you want more low-end power and are a vet-style rider, the 2021 Honda CRF450RX is worth a look—yes, for motocross.
The new hydraulically actuated clutch is excellent. The clutch is so good that we never thought about it at all while riding. We’re familiar with the hydraulic clutches on Euro bikes. As a result, we sometimes have a tough time getting a feel for cable clutches when switching between bikes. The older Honda 450s had an especially bad feel. The new clutch has a nice, and relatively light, feel with a good engagement point—we like it.
The new bodywork looks great. With its clean, smooth lines and minimalist graphics, the 2021 Honda CRF450R is a classy-looking motorcycle, and possibly the best-looking 450 on the track.
Honda has made the CRF450R easier to work on. With side access to the air filter, 8mm heads throughout the body, and a simpler single exhaust, Honda worked hard to make the ownership a much easier experience.
The 2021 Honda CRF450R is a significant step forward for the breed. We’ve always liked the CRF450R, and the latest iteration is easier to ride fast, with quickly customizable power delivery. The only thing we might wish for is a ride on the new CRF450RW.